RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Relief may be on the way for millions of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

A new study from RTI International finds that PTSD sufferers showed improvement after they received anesthetizing injections into the collection of nerves known as the stellate ganglion, or SGB.

“Stellate ganglion block treatment warrants further study as a posttraumatic stress disorder treatment adjunct,” the study says. The improvement shown among patients who received actual rather than “sham” injections showed “a significant difference,” the researchers added.

An estimated 8 million people a year suffer from PTSD, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to Cedars Sinai health organization, the stellate ganglion is a collection of nerves found at the level of the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae. The nerves are located in front of the vertebrae and are part of the sympathetic nervous system and supply the face and arms.

“The stellate ganglion is like a routing center for the nervous system and controls the impulse for fight or flight,” says Kristine Rae Olmsted, the study’s co-primary investigator. She is a research epidemiologist.

“Anesthetizing the ganglion blocks nerve impulses temporarily. We still don’t know how SGB works to improve PTSD symptoms, but now we know that it does.”

RTI said such SGB anesthetic injections into the neck and have been “shown to control pain in the head, neck and arms.”

“In recent years, some military and civilian doctors have been administering SGB to treat patients with PTSD symptoms,” RTI added.

RTI’s findings were published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal from the American Medical Association.

The eight week clinical study included 108 active-duty military service members suffering from PTSD. It was funded by the US Army. One of the three test sites was at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg.

“SGB has been used for decades to control pain, but this marks the first time its effectiveness has been shown for the treatment of PTSD symptoms,” RTI noted.

Participants received two injections two weeks apart with two thirds getting the actual injections and one third “sham” injections.

According to RTI, one study participant reported “a very radical change in feeling the first day…it has helped me not to be stressed and angry all the time. I can now let stuff go rather than blowing up about them.”

Sean Mulvaney, a study co-investigator and a retired colonel from the US Army Medical Corps, praised the study’s results.

“Now we have a strong study with the highest level of evidence that shows that SGB can really help PTSD symptoms,” he said in a statement.

“I hope this study finally helps patients get the relief they need.”

Read more about the study online.